Scientific and Subversive: the Two Faces of the 4th Phase of Political Campaigning

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This article sets out the case that democracies are now entering a 4th phase of ‘Data-driven’ Political Campaigning. Building on the existing campaigns literature, we identify several key shifts in practice that define the new phase. Namely: (1) an organizational and strategic dependency on digital technology and ‘big data’ ; (2) a reliance on networked communication; (3) the individualized micro-targeting of campaign messages; and (4) the internationalization of the campaign sphere. Departing from prior studies, we also argue that the new phase is distinguished by a bifurcation into two variants – the scientific and subversive. While sharing a common core these two modes differ in that the former retains a commitment to the normative goals of campaigning, i.e. to mobilise and inform voters while the latter explicitly rejects and subverts these aims, focusing instead on demobilization and the spread of misinformation. Both are presented as abstract or ‘ideal’ types although we do point to how features of each have appeared in recent election campaigns by mainstream and populist parties. We conclude by discussing the implications of these trends for the longer term future health of democracy.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Media & Society
Early online date2 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Apr 2020

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